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Ute Sakoda moves into elite company

Louie Sakoda
Louie Sakoda

Louie Sakoda now has something in common with quarterbacks Alex Smith and John Beck.

And it isn't a great throwing arm.

Utah's kicker/punter picked up his third consecutive Mountain West Conference Player of the Week award — joining Smith and Beck as the only players in league history to do so.

Sakoda, a junior, had punts of 52 and 56 yards in last Thursday's 27-20 win at TCU. He also made three PATs and two field goals to earn the MWC's weekly special teams award.

"That's good for Louie. He deserves it. He's been a great weapon for us all year long," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "In my opinion, he's the best dual-threat kicker in the country."

Sakoda has certainly made his mark in the MWC — winning player of the week honors seven times in his career, including four this season.

The success has prompted the University of Utah's sports information office to dedicate a section of its weekly press notes to the All-American candidate.

"Vote A Sakoda" features updates on the player's growing list of accolades and impressive statistics. He's currently averaging 44.15 yards per punt and has made 13-of-14 of his field-goal attempts — ranking second nationally in both categories among dual punters/kickers.

Liz Abel, associate athletics director, is also getting the word out to the nation's college football writers and decisionmakers via e-mail and telephone calls — similar to successful campaigns for past Utes such as Smith, Jordan Gross and Eric Weddle.

"It's kind of time consuming but it seems to be fairly effective," Abel said. "What I'm sort of hoping is if I don't get something for him this year, that I get him in people's heads and maybe we can get him in next year."

Sakoda, she explained, may be hurt a bit by being good at both kicking and punting. It presents a challenge since most of the national awards are specific to one position.

Sakoda's credentials, though, warrant serious consideration.

Besides being named the MWC's Preseason Special Teams Player of the Year, he's a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award and on the watch list for the Lou Groza Award.

"Having Louie is such an advantage for us — both offensively and defensively because we know we don't have to press when we have Louie," Utah quarterback Brian Johnson said. "He's good from almost anywhere on the field. We can always get points with Louie. He does a nice job."

Same goes for Sakoda's punting, Johnson explained. His kicks have helped the Utes garner positive field position.

"Louie is such a great weapon for this team," Johnson noted.

Sakoda currently leads the Utes in scoring with 59 points. He's made 13 consecutive field goals and has pinned 17 punts inside the 20- yard line, including six inside the opponent's 6.

EXTRA POINTS: Whittingham said that free safety Robert Johnson's shoulder injury won't get any better until offseason surgery is performed. Until then, Johnson and R.J. Rice will continue to split time ... Middle linebacker Joe Jiannoni had chronic ankle pain and will be hobbled by it for the rest of the season ... The Utes missed only four tackles in the victory over TCU.

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